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Review: Darbar Palace a welcome expansion to local Indian culinary scene

The chicken tikka is generous in both flavor and heft. Eric Daeuber / The Forum1 / 2
The gol gappa at Darbar Palace is rich in potatoes and peas and is served with a tamarind dipping sauce. Eric Daeuber / The Forum2 / 2

Fargo and Moorhead have enjoyed good Indian cuisine for a long time. India Palace and Passage to India, for example, are mainstays when it comes to satisfying that subcontinental longing.

Everest Tikka House added some unique Nepali dishes and now Darbar Palace brings Iran and Pakistan to the table. The space in the old Powers Hotel, where Darbar Palace makes its home, has seen its fair share of cuisines, but it's safe to say that, 100 years ago, patrons in the hotel coffee shop couldn't order chicken tikka and may well not have known what it was even if they could.

For those who might not be familiar with it today, this mild tandoor roasted chicken dish is a good place to start. But there is no reason to stop there. All the Indian options in town make a good chicken tandoor, all will spice it to you taste, and, like the others, this one ($12.95) is generous in both flavor and heft. But there are other dishes on the menu that you may want to consider if you are looking for some variety in this style of cooking.

Begin with naan ($2.50-$4.50), but try the spinach naan. Liberal in spinach and butter, but wonderfully light, it tears almost like the interior of croissant. Puri ($3.50), a deep fried unleavened bread similar to Native American fry bread, is another option.

Gol gappa is a way of dipping your feet into street food of eastern India, and Darbar's rendition is rich in potatoes and peas but lacks the crispness you might hope for in the shell, although it does well with the tamarind dipping sauces.

The menu comes into its own as you move west into Pakistan and Iran. Nehari ($12.95) has an interesting history though you don't need to know it to appreciate this slow cooked beef stew served with white rice. But it helps to think of it a culinary bridge with flavors from of the great cultural traditions, both Muslim and Hindu, in that part of the world. The flavors — fennel, cinnamon, coriander and cumin — are a laundry list of classic tastes from that part of the world.

And to find flavors beyond Pakistan from Iran and its Persian dishes, go to the lamb shank, served with dill spiced basmati ($14.95). It's an impressive dish the can skew dry. In this interpretation it didn't suffer the heat too badly.

The baklava at Darbar Palace is a round version of the pastry that gets its sweetness from honey rather than sugar. Eric Daeuber

Finish the meal with baklava, in this case the round version of this enormously diverse dessert that varies widely in both shape and filling, and you'll find a comfortable break from the overly sweet styles, this one being served with honey and very little, if any, sugar.

The service is very good, and our server and the owner spent as much time with us as we needed to make the best selections. Food was prepared fresh and fast and came in the right order at the right temperature in the right presentation.

The atmosphere suffers from decor and furnishings that cover a century of culinary incarnations in this space, but there are some touches that remind you of the nature of the experience such as appropriate patterns in the under-glass table coverings.

It's not another Indian restaurant. It's an addition to the good options that cover much of the Indian subcontinent. It moves you a little west of India. And might I be right to say that, deep in the flavors and finishes of some of these dishes, you might even find a little bit of Turkey?Darbar Palace

Address: 402 North Broadway, Fargo

Cuisine: Indian, Pakistani, Persian

Food: 3.5 stars

Service: 3.5 stars

Ambiance: 1.5 stars

Dining details

Hours: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday to Sunday (closed Wednesday) lunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Phone: (218) 790-8636

Reservations accepted: No

Alcohol: No

Credit cards accepted: Yes

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com.

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